Pregnancy and parenting is a happy time in your life. But what if it is not? Along with the joy that accompanies pregnancy and the birth of a new baby, there are also stressful experiences that generate anxiety and pervasive feelings of sadness, incompetence and loneliness. One in seven women suffer from Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, a group of symptoms that occur during pregnant and in the postpartum period, interfering with a mother’s emotional wellness and overall functioning. Therapy can be very effective at reducing these symptoms, but most new mothers are not interested in therapy. Here are some reasons why mothers are ambivalent about starting therapy.
She needs to be perfect
Many women have illusions about what it is going to be like when their babies are born. They imagine a picture perfect family with a perfect baby. But the reality is much different. The demands of a new baby compiled with the rapid hormonal changes quickly change this picture. Mothers who can be flexible and say, “Hmm, this is harder than I imagined, but I guess it is what it is” are able to adapt. However, mothers who have a rigid view of perfection struggle with this change and can sometimes become depressed or anxious.
Admitting to feelings of depression and anxiety with the birth of a new baby, and then having those feelings validated by a therapist can feel very overwhelming to an already guilt-ridden mother. This confirms that she is “sick” and worse yet, her baby made her feel this way. This can feel unbearable to a new mother.
Despite what is often portrayed in the media, there is no perfect mother. We need to get this idea out of our heads. Perfection cannot be the expectation. Instead, the goal needs to be taking care of ourselves in order to best take care of our children. The decision to seek professional help is a reflection a new mother’s strength, not of her weakness.
She doesn’t want to be crazy
The media-headlines sensationalize women with postpartum depression and psychosis. Understandably, this scares women who may be having symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. A mother may think: “I can’t tell anyone what is happening to me; they will think that I am crazy and take away my baby.”
We know a lot more about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders now. Emerging research and a trend of celebrities disclosing postpartum depression has decreased the stigma of the illness. The challenge is to help postpartum women separate their identity as a mother from the symptoms that are making them feel like they are going crazy. Symptoms of depression overlap with changes that we come to expect during the postpartum period, such as exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite and fatigue. Many women simply believe that their feelings of sadness, nervousness, ambivalence and panic are part of being a new mother. My role as a therapist is to normalize, separate and relieve these symptoms. Clients begin to understand that when we treat the illness, the symptoms get better and they no longer feel so bad.
She doesn’t have the time or the money
Okay, true. Therapy can be costly and time-consuming. New mothers don’t have any time. Their time and energy is devoted to their new baby. Squeezing in another thing can feel daunting. If that one extra thing is therapy, forget it.
Time may be one of the biggest reasons why women do not seek treatment at the onset of symptoms. But time is a relative concept. Even with busy schedules, we make time for the things that we prioritize. New mothers need to prioritize themselves. Often a mother puts her baby, her family and her partner before herself. If she can take care of herself and come to therapy than she can relieve herself of symptoms and have much more time and energy for other things.
Yes, therapy is expensive and good therapy is costly. Think of therapy as an investment in yourself. Further, untreated depression and anxiety can have devastating costs on the mother, the child and the entire family. Now it seems worth it. The goal of therapy is for symptom relief, not to keep a person in therapy forever.
A note for new mothers
I understand that you are too tired, too distracted and too overwhelmed with your new baby to think about yourself or your own mental health. I get it, but hear me out.
In addition to the stress that you are probably feeling, I also understand how important it is to get you back to feeling like yourself again and as quickly as possible. As a therapist who specializes in the treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I get this and I want to provide you with relief from your symptoms too.
If you recently had a baby (or are pregnant) and do not like the way you are feeling, consider these reasons about why you should engage in therapy:
- The sooner you get professional help, the sooner you will start feeling better. Therapy provides you with a frame of reference that will help you build a healthier perspective on some of your unwanted thoughts and feelings.
- If you are so overwhelmed that adding therapy to your already-full-plate doesn’t feel plausible, remember that therapy can help you minimize those overwhelmed feelings and also decrease depression and anxiety with resources and clinical skills. If getting out of the house is too much of a barrier, consider teletherapy. With new and emerging technologies, you can engage in therapy from the comfort of your very own home.
- Maybe you are not worried about how you are feeling right now, but you have a history of depression or anxiety—which can be a risk factor for postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Remember that any kind of support during this period is extremely valuable.
- While relying on friends and family is wonderful, everyone benefits from an outside perspective. A therapist comes with a different understanding that your friends and family may not have. Therapy might be the very place you need to express yourself freely and without judgment.
- As a parent or caregiver, your mental and overall health is just as important as your child’s. Treatment is available and it works. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation to see how I can help you.
Kleinman, K. (2014). Everything gets in the way: Resistance. Therapy and the postpartum woman (pp. 13-19). New York, NY: Routledge